Bernard Dunstan, RA PRWA NEAC HPS (1920-2017)


Andrew Harold Bernard Dunstan, RA PRWA NEAC HPS (1920-2017)

Bernard Dunstan was brought up in the tradition of Degas, Sickert and Vuillard, and established himself with intimate figure subjects and landscapes in paint and pastel. A member of both the Royal Academy and the New English Art Club for many years, he was much loved and greatly respected.


Bernard Dunstan was born in Teddington, Middlesex, on 19 January 1920, the son of Dr Albert Dunstan, Chief Chemist with the Anglo Persian Oil Company, and his wife Louisa (née Cleaverley). He was educated at Colet Court, the preparatory school for St Paul’s, and then at St Paul’s itself, where his art teacher was Erik Sthyr. During his last year he attended evening classes at Chelsea School of Art. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he went to the Byam Shaw School of Art, where he studied under Ernest Jackson. Later the same year, he went to the Slade School of Fine Art, during its evacuation from London to Oxford, and studied under Allan Gwynne-Jones, among others. While there, he met Diana Armfield in the life class, her textile design course having closed. Though rejected by the Royal Air Force on account of his eyesight, he was admitted to the Royal Observer Corps in 1941, and spent the rest of the war in Oxford, mapping flight movements and bombing raids.

Brought up in Degas-Sickert-Vuillard tradition, Dunstan established himself with intimate figure subjects and landscapes, which he began to exhibit regularly at the Royal Academy (from 1945) and the New English Art Club (becoming a member in 1946), among other institutions. Both the RA and the NEAC would become central to his professional life. In 1946, he moved to Bristol, to take up a teaching position at the Schools of the Royal West of England Academy (RWA). At the close of the 1940s, he was elected to the membership of the RWA (and would act as its President between 1979 and 1984).

While Dunstan was in Bristol, Diana regained contact with him, having seen a painting by him at the 1947 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. They married in 1949, and moved into the studio at 7 Lambolle Road, Belsize Park, the home of Diana’s elder sister, Kay.

In the early 1950s, they settled in Kew, living first at 17 Lichfield Road and, from later in the decade, at 10 High Park Road. Together they had three sons: Andrew (in 1950), David (in 1952) and Robert (in 1955; who sadly died in 2007).

Through the 1950s and 60s, Dunstan taught at a number of schools in the London area: Camberwell School of Art (1950-64), the Byam Shaw School of Art (1953-74), Ravensbourne Art College (1959-64) and the City and Guilds of London Art School (1964-69). He also educated the wider public in a series of books, including Learning to Paint (1970), Painting Methods of the Impressionists (1976), and an edition of John Ruskin’s The Elements of Drawing (1991). A book on his work, with his own introduction and commentary, entitled The Paintings of Bernard Dunstan, was published by David & Charles in 1993.

Becoming an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1959, and a full Royal Academician in 1968, Dunstan was much loved and greatly respected by both the public and fellow Academicians, and continued to exhibit there until his death. He also held regular solo shows at Roland, Browse and Delbanco (between 1952 and 1970), and later at Agnews. In addition, he had a long association with Wales, spending much time at his second home at Llwyn Hir, Parc, near Bala, in Gwynedd, exhibiting at the Royal Cambrian Academy, and holding a joint retrospective with his wife, Diana, in Welshpool, in 1988. His international reach is suggested by two artist’s residencies, which he held (with Diana) at Perth, in Western Australia (in 1985) and Jackson, Wyoming, in the United States (in 1989).

Bernard Dunstan held a show with Diana Armfield at the Royal Academy in 2015-16. He died on 20 August 2017.

His work is represented in The Royal Collection, the Royal West of England Academy and numerous public collections, including the National Portrait Gallery.

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